Reflections: iGEM Delegates at the UN Convention on Biodiversity

Mar 14, 2019

Last November, we sent 4 iGEMers from India, Germany, Canada, and Slovenia, to attend the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, hosted at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt as a part of our Delegate Program

Synthetic Biology was one of the key items of the agenda along with the Cartagena and the Nagoya protocols, two crucial international agreements that strive for the safe and fair use of genetic resources.

During the convention, our Delegates got a chance to share their experience of learning and applying Synthetic Biology through the iGEM Competition, they also convened on Safety & Security practices surrounding the gene engineering technologies and their impact on conserving biodiversity.   

We reached out to our Delegates to hear about what they learned from this experience.

Aiswarya Prasad attended the UN Convention on Biodiversity through the After iGEM Delegate Program. She is an undergraduate student at the Indian institute of Science (IISc) and paticipated in iGEM 2016 as part of the IISc iGEM team.

She is currently working on the gut microbiome and is interested in applying her experience in synthetic biology to better understand human microbiome interactions as a graduate student. She joined the after iGEM delegate program this year with an interest in understanding how science and policy interact and to learn responsible communication of science to society. By attending the UN Convention on Biodiversity, she got to learn about the policies being undertaken in different regions to ensure conservation of local flora and fauna. 

“Attending the CBD provided me the rare opportunity to observe international diplomacy in action. It was interesting to see how countries with varying ideas managed to sit together in one room and hammer out a document that satisfied all the countries. It was also wonderful to interact with fellow iGEMers from different parts of the world.”

Janina Luders attended the UN Convention on Biodiversity through the After iGEM Delegate Program. 
She is a PhD student at the Staiger lab of RNA biology and molecular physiology in Bielefeld, Germany. She is interested in the identification of RNA binding proteins and their function. Her interest in synthetic biology started during her first iGEM year in 2015 at CeBiTec. The design of a cell-free biosensor screening water was accompanied by a lot of insights in policies, especially biosecurity and dual use issues, leading to volunteer work in biosecurity education. Through the Delegate Progran she got a chance to intensify her experiences by meeting policy makers at the COP14 and talking about Synthetic Biology. 

“I am very grateful to have been granted the opportunity to take part in the iGEM delegate program, to get the insights into policy making and development, and to get this brilliant learning and networking opportunity. I hope to stay involved with After iGEM and to contribute to the development of the program, as I think it is beneficial to not only the participants, but the community that is involved in science and policies.”

Justin Vigar is a graduate student at the Alberta RNA Research and Training Institute (ARRTI), at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. 
Currently he works in the Laboratory for Biomolecular Design and Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Hans-Joachim Wieden, within the intersection of RNA biochemistry and engineering. 
Justin was a member of the 2010 and 2011 University of Lethbridge iGEM teams, and was a mentor of the 2014 Lethbridge High School iGEM Team.

The Delegate Program provided Justin an opportunity to engage with policy makers from all around the world and discuss the applications of Synthetic Biology for protecting Biodiversity.

“Attending the UNCBD was truly a life changing experience. It showed me how important it is to have iGEMers involved in international diplomacy. Not only are iGEM students technically adept, they also bring the core set of iGEM values (integrity, sportsmanship, respect, honesty, celebration, cooperation, effort, and excellence) to the negotiating table – this in invaluable. Attending the UNCBD has reignited my love of iGEM and my extreme appreciation of Human Practices.”

Nina Jerala attended the UN Convention on Biodiversity trough the After iGEM Delegate Program. She is a medical student at the University of Ljubljana and is currently working at the Laboratory for Synthetic Biology and Immunology at the National Institute of Chemistry in Slovenia. Her research interests focus on the intersection between Synthetic Biology and Medicine. She has participated in Slovenian iGEM teams in 2015 as a high schooler and in 2016 a student. The Delegate Program allowed her to explore more in depth how science shapes international decision-making and how that in turn shapes the science policy.

“Practicing science, I only saw the tip of the iceberg of all the work that needs to be done to advance research. Attending the conference allowed me to dive under the water and see how much extensive work in legislature and diplomacy is really needed to support the exchange of information and resources that I take for granted when working in the lab.”


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